Rudolf Laban

I ‘met’ Laban through being introduced to his 8 Efforts in a Johannesburg workshop in 1998

Where Architecture, Dance and Process Engineering meet and kiss

Where do you even start when writing about an extraordinary life?

Have you ever tried to pick up noodles with a single chopstick? Each strand connects to every other strand and you find yourself faced with an impossible task. That’s where I find myself when I stand on the shore of Rudolf Laban’s life. And so, I will ask you to imagine the film I have produced about his life rolling before your eyes, capturing, I hope, the essence of Laban.


          In the opening scene we see a small boy in his nightshirt peeking between the banisters of a great hall in Vienna in the 1880’s. Below him…

Another scene shows the same boy in the countryside of Sarajevo or Bosnia. He is watching peasants at work during harvest-time. Some are cutting, some gathering, others threshing and tying.

          Yet another scene shows him at a parade. His father, a high-ranking military official in the Austro-Hungarian Empire is leading his regiment in an elaborate exercise.

          The boys sees all of this, not as you or I would see it, but as a series of movements in space, weight and time. He is hypnotised by it’s rhythm, it’s flow. It exhilarates him.


          He is older in the next scene and a furious row is taking place with his father. His mother intervenes. There is more shouting and them there is reason and compromise. The young Rudolf Laban will not follow in his father’s footsteps but will move to Paris to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Art.


          The stage moves to Paris and we see Rudolf drawn into the world of dance, where his true passion lies. Through architecture even, he observes the movement of bodies in space. He has become an artist, a dancer.


Time moves on. It is now 10 years later in Munich, the art centre of Germany. He has acquired the first of two wives and some of his 9 children. But his focus is clearly on BEWEGUNGSKUNST, the movement arts. He is passionate and obsessive about this and by the age of 40 his family life ceases as he runs two dance theatre companies, a school, a movement choir, writes articles and books and creates dance works.


We can see that his life follows a pattern – periods of excessive, creative endeavour, followed by depression and withdrawal after what he perceives as rejection of his ideas. Fortunately, he has gathered many followers around him who are inspired by his ideas and works.


As we sit in the darkened theatre, we are assaulted by the sights and sounds of the Age of Realism. The writings of Freud and Darwin are impacting the way people think and operate. The art of Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky and the music of Ravel, Stravinsky and Prokofiev all provide inspiration and challenge the norms of the time.


Labanotation, courtesy of

Amidst all this, Laban has created 25 Laban schools and choirs for the education of children and adults, men and women, professionals and amateurs right across Europe – all of this by the age of 50, by which time he had settled in Berlin, where he continues to keep a dance laboratory for his own research. By now he has achieved immortality through the development of Labanotation, a method of recording dance movement, thereby elevating dance to the status of music and art.  The choreography of a ballet can now be recorded down to the finest movement, such as the position of the little finger on the left hand. Despite this, he is poor and his possessions consist of nothing but of his working papers.


It’s probably just as well because it’s now the height of Nazism in Germany and Laban is a Jew. His name and works are destroyed by the Propaganda Ministry and we see many of his followers flee to the US, with Laban himself fleeing to Britain in 1938.

You check your watch, as this surely must be the end of the man and his work. But no, far from retiring defeated in a foreign country at the age of 60, we see a new phase in his career begin. Have you heard of Time and Motion studies? Or Process Engineering? We see the origins of this in the next scene as Laban works in industry, analysing the movements of workers in factory production lines and on farms as he and a man called Lawerence and he devise less stressful means of carrying out tasks. Flashbacks to the opening scenes mingle with scenes from J. Lyons & Co., Pilkington’s Tiles and the Mars Bar factory.

Rudolf Laban. Image Courtesy of


In the closing scene, we see disciples opening studios and schools all over Britain, under his guidance and unbeknownst to him, all over the world by the earlier followers who were scattered years before. The film doesn’t end with his death in the 1950’s. Instead, we see the signs of his immortality everywhere – in the dance studio, on the stage, in the factory and in the countryside, right up to the present day. As the credits appear, we are touched by the sheer depth and breadth of the man who was Rudolf Laban.

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